For starters, I can’t say I was ever under the disillusion that my self-destructing behavior would suddenly take a positive turn. Way before I came to terms with the fact that my drinking, my anger, my compulsive behaviors and all the lies to cover them up were a major problem, I still was fairly aware that they weren’t good. I just couldn’t stop, nor did I want to. But I never expected these defects to miraculously allow me to carry on a “normal” life.
But beyond simply never experiencing the feeling myself, I’m a bit of a stickler for grammar, wording, and the English language. And the majority of my distaste for this phrase comes from a rigid obsession with accuracy. Simply put? This is NOT the definition of insanity. Trust me – I’ve searched long and hard to find a dictionary in existence that backs up this claim. Yes, I’ll go great lengths to both understand or (more often than not) dispute someone else’s point of view. This popular saying is just not true.
So, I regrettably have to admit to tuning out when someone “quotes” this non-quote. It’s the same reaction when someone uses the word that isn’t a word: “Irregardless.” Automatic and irrational rage.
But when my aunt shared this post from Power of Positivity on Facebook recently, it struck me as a similar (yet grammatically accurate!) way of expressing the crux of the so-called “definition” of insanity.
And to boot? I finally can identify.
I made an appointment with a reputable Manhattan therapist. While I sat in Dr. Andro’s zen-themed waiting room, I listened to the pitter-patter of the electric waterfall and felt at peace. It was the most soothing atmosphere I’d ever stumbled upon. It was a sign. Finally, I was going to be fixed. I daydreamed about what lovely little pills I’d be leaving with that would make me drink less, and maybe even lose weight as well! Oh, what a feminine little lady I was about to become.
Dr. Andro called me into his office and gave me a glance that could be described as “knowing” if only I’d had the ability to understand exactly what he knew. I immediately set off telling him what I was hoping to get out of this session. He cut me off with my least favorite question. “Exactly how much and how often do you drink?”
Even if I’d wanted to be honest, no response would have been truthful. I didn’t know. That was the beauty of drinking as much as I did – I never really had to face the memory of it.
“1-2 glasses of wine a night,” I ventured. He peered at me from under his glasses. He looked me up and down for what felt like an hour. I believe he may have even shaken his head and uttered a “tsk, tsk.”
“Ms. Hand,” Dr. Andro started as he set down his notebook and folded his hands in his lap.
Shit. I knew this talk. Good-bye little pills. Good-bye weight loss. Good-bye lady dreams.
“I cannot treat you, in good conscience, until you can be honest with me. And even then I’d be wary.”
“I don’t understand,” I felt my face get red with rage. “I need help and you’re supposed to help people.”
“I cannot help you, dear, until you’ve helped yourself. I will not see you again until you’ve removed all substances from the equation.” This prick. This fucking prick.
“It’s clear to me that you are dependent on substances, and I can only recommend long-term treatment or perhaps giving a 12-step meeting a try.”
I hated him for delaying the now-dying dream of beautiful prescriptions. “Yeah, ok, I’ll go to a meeting tonight. Now, about those prescriptions….”
“Ms. Hand, that will be $20 to cover the visit today, and please let me know how the meetings works out for you.”
I didn’t give him his money. I told him he didn’t do his job, which was to help me, so I didn’t owe him anything. I added that in fact, he hurt me, so he’d be hearing from the lawyer we both knew I didn’t have.
I thumped out of his office, through the passé Buddhist waiting room, unplugging his stupid electric water fountain before I left.
My first job out of college was a Public Relations Coordinator for a trade show management company. Always an awkward girl, dread washed over me each time I dialed in for my weekly press calls. I was required to brief industry journalists every Monday about the new products that would debut at our upcoming events.
My boss, Kent, criticized the way I ran these briefings.
“It sounds like you don’t care about what we’re doing here,” he said. “It’s as if you’re not excited about our trade shows.” Because what 21 year-old can’t muster up passion for textiles and carpet wholesale?
“You need to figure out a way to make these phone calls more interesting,” he said, as if it were as simple as that. It was like plopping a hobo at the head table of White House state dinner and commanding him to “act natural.”
To me, the phrase “act natural” was synonymous with “get drunk.” The only way I felt comfortable in my own skin was when it was yellow with jaundice from near-liver failure. So the following week I arrived at the office armed with my magnum of $9 Yellow Tail merlot. I downed 1/4 bottle in the restroom and waltzed into my bosses office in time for the 9:30 a.m. phone call.
“Heyyyy, Johhnnnn, how’s it hangin’, man?!” I opened, channeling my inner used-car salesman. “Boy, do I have a ton to tell you!”
When I hung up the phone, Kent stared at me in disbelief.
“THAT,” he said, “was hands-down the best phone call you’ve ever led.”
If I hadn’t already crossed the line – that line separates the heavy drinker from the alcoholic – this was probably the moment that I did. That one-time conference call booster turned into the occasional nip in the office bathroom. The occasional nip turned into an everyday occurrence. Pretty quickly, each afternoon by 3 p.m. I’d be drinking just to cure the hangover from the morning drinking.
This would have been quite manageable, if only I didn’t get so tired. I took to napping on the bathroom floor, in plain sight of my fellow female colleagues. One day, Julie – a mess of a drunk herself, and as a result, my favorite coworker – nearly tripped over me as she entered the ladies’ room. She squatted to meet my filmy gaze, and gave me a sympathetic look.
“You might find that your day runs smoother if you balance out the liquor with a little cocaine,” she surmised, as if she were suggesting I replace my morning coffee with herbal tea. “You’ll probably get double the amount of work done, too.”
Double the amount of work would mean any work at all, and not waking up face down on office tile at 10 p.m. would be an added bonus. I thanked Julie for her generosity as she set up my first line on the toilet lid.
Within a month I needed it to steady myself just long enough to reach my shower each morning. And eventually I needed more than that. It became the fuel I needed to leave my apartment. The key to the door of every conversation. Coworkers and family questioned how many seasons one girl could suffer allergies.
While my grip on reality had always been fairly loose, I began doing things that made even less sense. I began experiencing cocaine psychosis which is a lot like tripping on acid, only at times when you’d much rather not.
I went on dates as if I were in the position to enter a relationship. Every one started with cocktails at the bar and ended in one of two ways – him having to leave before dinner or during it. In one particular case where a pathetic soul stuck it out ’til the end, he looked onas I swam in the fountain of a residence on 87th & York. I thanked the cops for “pulling me to shore,” adding that I’d always wanted an apartment with a pool.
The officers scooted us off, and we walked back towards my apartment. I tried opening the front door with my MetroCard, delaying me long enough to recall that I hadn’t taken the trash out in 5 months. I suggested that we sleep in the nearby park instead, and after promising him sex, he was convinced.
I pissed my pants that night, but forgot about it and arrived at morning brunch with an old coworker wearing the same clothes.
One afternoon I walked 44 blocks to see my drug dealer, Dave, after polishing off the last of an 8-ball I’d bought the night before. While I now recall simply tripping on the sidewalk and falling, barely hurt, the scene erupted into a dramatic episode of Law & Order in my mind. I arrived at our usual bodega maniacally reporting to Dave that I’d been beaten and robbed by a small Mexican couple while their over-bundled baby looked on and laughed. He gave me a concerned look and fresh new baggie, muttered something about a hospital and sped off.
Dave changed his number, never to be reached again.
When a drug dealer whose rent you pay twice over refuses to take your calls, you’re bound to wonder if you have a problem. It was becoming clear (perhaps from the absence of cocaine, now that Dave had abandoned me) that normal people didn’t live like I did. I was too young to stop partying, but something had to be done.
I needed to learn to drink like a lady.
A few months ago, I was approached by Kristin at Team Stinkykiss, a non-profit Rescue Shelter Project dedicated to the rescuing and rehoming of abandoned and homeless dogs and cats from local high-kill shelters in Augusta, Georgia.
Kristin asked me to donate one of my pet-related products from Etsy to an online auction her organization was running (which was incredibly well-done, by the way). I gladly obliged, honored to have the opportunity to help others – especially the animals that are near and dear to my heart.
I can’t imagine a life without my dogs. They are my best friends, my snuggle buddies – sometimes the only faces that cheer me up after a rough day at work. The mistreatment of animals is something I will never be able to understand, and the topic is worthy of another post entirely. But while my fiance is opposed to adopting 40 more pups (I’ve tried and I’ll continue), I’m thrilled to be able to do something – albeit, small – to contribute to a cause I believe in.
One mug in one auction barely scratches the surface, so I’m happy to say that I’ll now be donating half of all proceeds gained from my “Leave Your Mark” mug to Team Stinkykiss. The more mugs we sell, the more inventory I can afford, the more products I can design, launch and add to my pet-lovers line; the more I can donate more to this nonprofit.
Thank you, Kristin, for reaching out, and – more importantly – doing what you do for these animals in need of love and rehabilitation.